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Thorpe v. Commonwealth, Department of Transportation

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 12, 2019

Victor Joseph Thorpe
v.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, Appellant

          Submitted: April 26, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge

          OPINION

          MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, JUDGE

         The Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (DOT) appeals the order of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (trial court) that sustained the appeal of Victor Joseph Thorpe (Licensee) from DOT's 90-day suspension of his operating privilege pursuant to Section 1532(d)(1) of the Vehicle Code.[1] We affirm.

         On September 17, 2017, Licensee was cited for a violation of Section 6308 of the Crimes Code.[2] On March 8, 2018, pursuant to Section 6310.4(a), (b)(1) of the Crimes Code, [3] the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas (Mercer County Court) notified DOT via an electronically transmitted Form DL-21C that Licensee had a "Preadjudicative Disposition" of the charge. See Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 22a. By March 16, 2018 letter, DOT notified Licensee of the suspension pursuant to Section 1532(d)(1) of the Vehicle Code. See id. at 18a-21a. Licensee appealed to the trial court.

         At the trial court hearing, DOT offered into evidence a packet of documents, marked as Exhibit 1. R.R. at 11a. As stated by DOT's counsel at the hearing, Document 2 of Exhibit 1 is the Form DL-21C "that was electronically transmitted to [DOT] by the office of the Clerk of [the Mercer County Court] on March 8th of [2018]," which "shows that [Licensee] received a preadjudication disposition from the Mercer County [Court] on the charge of violating [S]ection 6308 of the Crimes Code, the date of that offense being September 17, 2017." Id. at 11a-12a. Following the trial court's admission of the documents, DOT rested its case. Id. at 12a.

         Licensee's counsel argued that DOT's Exhibit 1, although certified by DOT, was not sufficient to support Licensee's suspension because DOT was required to present documents certified by the Mercer County Court to sustain its burden of proof. R.R. at 13a, 14a. With respect to DOT's evidence, specifically the Form DL-21C, counsel stated:

Well, I don't know if that is from Mercer County, sir, or if it is not. But if you kindly look at the document for the certification that [DOT's counsel] is referring to, it is clearly a []DOT document, because there's a []DOT seal on the top left-hand side, the left-hand portion of the document that was submitted. There's no seal from Mercer County, and there's nothing establishing that whatever certification they're alleging [] was received from Mercer County.

Id. at 15a. The trial court agreed, and sustained Licensee's appeal. Id. See also id. at 28a. DOT then filed the instant appeal to this Court.

         On appeal, [4] DOT alleges that the trial court erred in sustaining Licensee's appeal based on the admissibility of the Form DL-21C that was electronically transmitted to DOT. Nevertheless, assuming arguendo that DOT's allegation of error in this regard is correct, [5] the record in this case demonstrates that Licensee's appeal of the suspension should be sustained because, as conceded by DOT, "[t]he 'Date of Disposition' block on the DL-21C form is not completed. (R.R. 22a)." Brief for Appellant at 18 n.8. Thus, the irregularity of the only evidence offered by DOT to support the instant license suspension is manifest.

         As this Court has explained:

"In a license suspension case, the only issues are whether the criminal court convicted the licensee, and whether [DOT] acted in accordance with applicable law." [DOT] bears the initial burden to establish a prima facie case that a record of conviction supports a suspension. An essential part of satisfying this burden is the production of an official record of the conviction supporting the suspension. [DOT] must also establish it acted in accordance with applicable law.

Rawson v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 99 A.3d 143, 147 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014) (citations omitted).

         Former Section 6310.4(a) of the Crimes Code, 18 Pa. C.S. §6310.4(a) (repealed), stated that "[w]henever a person . . . is admitted to any preadjudication program for a violation of section . . . 6308 (relating to purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverages)[, ] the court . . . shall order the operating privilege of the person suspended. A copy of the order shall be transmitted to [DOT]." See also Section 1534(a) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. §1534(a) ("[I]f a person is arrested for any offense enumerated in section 1532 (relating to revocation or suspension of operating privilege) and is offered and accepts [ARD] under general rules, the court shall promptly notify [DOT]."); Section 6323(1), 75 Pa. C.S. §6323(1) ("The clerk of any court of this ...


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